Zagat’s 2009 Airline Survey Shows Airline/Agent Booking Decline

When it comes to booking flights, travel agents continued to lose ground as their share of bookings declined from 17 percent in 2007 to 8 percent this year, while booking directly through the airlines' websites rose from 60 percent to 64 percent during the same period, according to Zagat who released the results of its 2009 Airline Survey.

The Zagat survey covered 16 domestic and 73 international airlines, as well as 30 domestic airports and was conducted on It incorporates the opinions of 5,895 frequent fliers and travel professionals (e.g. travel agents) who collectively took 97,600 flights in the past year.  “Travel websites were flat at 15 percent – a nod to special corporate incentives, which may explain why booking through work increased from 2 percent to 8 percent,” Zagat said.

This is the third annual Zagat airline survey and eighth survey since 1990, Zagat reports. “Not unexpectedly, this survey shows a decline in flying following the economic downturn. Fully 33 percent of the respondents reported flying less often while only 7 percent said more, Zagat said.

 “Confirming this decline, surveyors indicated that they were taking an average of 19.7 flights per year in 2007; that bottomed out to 16.3 in 2008 and ended up at 16.6 in 2009. The proportion of flights for business declined from 64 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2009 with leisure flights going from 35 percent to 39 percent in 2009.

Each airline was separately rated on Zagat's signature 30-point scale on its premium and economy class service for both domestic and international flights. The airlines were rated on four aspects of their performance: (1) Comfort, (2) Service, (3) Food and (4) Website. Other issues such as Value, On-Time Performance, Luggage Policy and In-Flight Entertainment were also covered.

“Looking at the rankings of the airlines it's clear that the major traditional U.S. airlines have been falling behind. For example, American, Delta, United, and US Air received overall ratings (combined average of Comfort, Service and Food) between 9 and 11 on the 30-point Zagat scale for their domestic economy class service.”

Of the major traditional U.S. airlines only Continental broke out of the pack with an overall rating of 15. Relatively new airlines such as JetBlue and Virgin America – flying newer planes with younger crews got much higher ratings (19 and 21, respectively). Virgin America received a 24 for its premium service. As always, ratings for international flights were substantially higher overall. While Continental's international performance scored best among the U.S. majors, category winners are Singapore (24), Emirates (22) and All Nippon Airways (21) respectively, Zagat said..

Surveyors' most important considerations in choosing an airline are the following: direct routes (68 percent), ticket price (61 percent), seat comfort/leg-room (51 percent), past experience (49 percent), time of day (48 percent) and frequent flier programs (42 percent). For budget-conscious fliers, Continental and Southwest are this year's winners for Best Value among international and domestic performance, respectively.

"The newer airlines continue to do well in the survey. Being less expensive to operate, they can therefore afford to provide better service," said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. "That airlines like Singapore, Emirates and Cathay Pacific do so well is a no-brainer – government support. They big question is how Continental does so well without any special advantages."